The World Needs Your Art Right Now
"I just don't know if my story matters during a global pandemic," one of my students said this week. She's writing a poetry collection that tackles identity, as an immigrant and a woman of color.
I straightened my shoulders and got into Speech Mode. "The world has never needed your voice more," I told her. "Yes, people are dying and the economy is crippled and racism is rampant and everything's going wrong. These are the times that we need art most. We need your poetry. Think of the people who need to hear your story, people like you who have had similar experiences and people who want to learn. You have a voice, a unique perspective, and the world needs it right now."
Dark times call for art to shine light on them. I wouldn't have been able to cope with this pandemic without music and literature and movies and TV and the beauty and humanity these things can highlight. Art is how we respond to injustice and grief, how we process and understand, how we feel less alone. It's how we escape and also how we dig in and make change happen. Art is how we connect. In a time when so much feels broken, it's how we can begin to mend. As Mark says in RENT's "La Vie Boheme," "The opposite of war isn't peace; it's creation!"
While talking to my student, I thought of Allan Gurganus' commencement speech at the Bennington Writing Seminars a few years ago, when I was an MFA student there. "Given our so-called leadership," he told the graduates, "let me put you on notice: I am really going to need to read you up ahead."
"The world needs your book," I had told my student.
Another of Gurganus' pearls of wisdom sticks out to me: "If a situation says 'Break Glass Only in Case of Emergency,' know it’s an emergency and break the frigging glass."
This is an emergency. Let's break the glass.